There she goes. Off to the other side of the world. Where you can sample a 1001 exotic dishes. And what turns out to be her favourite? A schnitzel. Because that’s what it is, tonkatsu (ton: “pork”, katsu: “cutlet”). A piece of pork, dipped in a lightly beaten egg, covered with bread crumbs, deep fried.
The dish falls under “yoshuku”, Japanese interpretations of Western cuisine. In this case, the copy can be better than the original.
What makes tonkatsu better than schnitzel
- The meat is tastier
Good tonkatsu-restaurants give you a choice of various types of meat. For example, there’s “rosu” and “hire”. Hire is lean. I prefer rosu, which is fattier. Fat means more flavour. Other people, particularly Northern Europeans, may prefer hire. Sometimes you’ll get an option of various pig breeds. Like Iberico (originally Spanish), Shimofuri or Kurobuta. That last one comes from cute little Berkshire pigs from Kagoshima.
- Japanese breadcrumbs
Japanese “panko” breadcrumbs are bigger, flake-like more than crumbs. It makes the crust around the meat particularly crunchy. Panko absorbs less of the frying oil, which helps as well.
- The presentation
The meat is often served on a little metal rack for the excess oil and to prevent the meat from getting soggy in its own steam. This way your tonkotsu stays crunchy.
How do you want it?
Tonkatsu is served in various ways. With egg, on top of a bowl of rice, for example. That’s called katsu-don. There’s katsu karee (with curry sauce) and katsu ramen which has the meat on top of a bowl of noodle soup. I prefer my tonkatsu the way it is presented on the picture above, taken at Wako in Shibuya’s Mark City mall. It’s a ‘set mea’, including shredded cabbage and sesame dressing, the unavoidable miso soup, a bowl of rice and some tsukemono (Japanese pickled vegetables). It’s served with special sauce: a rather sweet sauce made from apple, tomato, carrot, onion, vinager and spices. It’s quite tasty, but the meat is often delicious enough all by itself and doesn’t need the sauce.
There even are tonkatsu sandwiches (“katsu sando”) which you can buy in convenience stores and supermarkets. They look like this.
Mmmm. With a touch of mustard.
Do it yourself? You can. Just follow the tonkatsu recipe at justonecookbook.com. But buy your meat from a good butcher and don’t let them remove the rind. And don’t flatten the meat, that would really make it an ordinary schnitzel!
You can make the sauce with ketchup, soy sauce, garlic, etc. But it’s easier to buy a bottle of Bull-Dog at your local Asian supermarket.
Other people like tonkatsu too:
PS. Even tastier than tonkatsu is Hakata ramen (see my article about the best ramen in Japan).